The obscure 1988 state law that threatens to undermine a Glendale petition drive also stirred debate last week in Sacramento, where one state senator described its adoption as a "scandalous" political trick.
AB 4074 significantly increased the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot in charter cities such as Glendale and Los Angeles and in California's only combined city-county government, San Francisco.
State Sen. Quentin Kopp of San Francisco, who is California's only independent legislator, has been battling the law unsuccessfully since last summer, when the measure played havoc with a petition drive seeking to establish a two-term limit for members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Initially, San Francisco's registrar of voters determined the petitions had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. But the initiative was abruptly disqualified when the city attorney discovered that the new rules in AB 4074 require almost twice as many signatures.
"All hell broke loose, as you can imagine," the senator recalled. Kopp said state legislators approved this measure without debate because a summary of the bill described it as a simple technical correction and made no mention of its impact on the initiative process.
The senator said there was no opposition "because this feature had never been identified in any legislative analysis. This is scandalous!"
Earlier this year the California Senate approved a bill by Kopp to restore the previous initiative rules in San Francisco. When Kopp's bill moved to the Assembly, he expanded it to also restore the old initiative rules in charter cities.
In an interview, Kopp said Assemblyman Pete Chacon (D-San Diego), who is the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments, agreed verbally to support Kopp's bill. The senator said he therefore was "flabbergasted" to receive a May 25 letter in which Chacon said he would not support Kopp's bill.
In his letter, Chacon said he carried the original measure in 1988 at the request of the League of California Cities and California's city clerks. He said his goal was to make charter cities conform with other cities in the rules for initiative drives.
In his letter to Kopp, Chacon cited the position of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which opposes any reduction in the number of signatures needed for an initiative in a charter city.
"In their view, the percentage requirement based on registered voters helps to ensure a minimum threshold of public support for these measures as well as a higher level of drafting competence," the assemblyman wrote. An attempt by Kopp to revive his original bill was defeated last week by Chacon's committee.
The senator, whose bill will be reconsidered later this summer, believes his measure has been targeted by Assembly and League of California Cities leaders who want to make it tougher to put initiatives on the ballot.
"The fix is in somewhere," Kopp said. "This is the kind of maneuver that contributes to the continuing decline in voter turnout.
"There was not merely indignation," he wrote in a June 21 letter to the league describing how his San Francisco constituents reacted when their petition drive last summer was thwarted. "There was revulsion over the acts of public officials."
Clark Goecker, an assistant League of California Cities director who lobbied for AB 4074 two years ago, said its goal was to erase an inconsistency in the initiative rules and not to inhibit the initiative process.
After each legislative session, the league sends cities a report of new laws that may affect them, Goecker said. He was surprised that AB 4074 has created a stir among San Francisco and Glendale officials.
"I can't explain it other than that they just missed it," he said. "I'm not sure why there's any confusion. It's very clear how many signatures are required."
Nevertheless, the quiet approval of AB 4074 was one of the legislative moves that prompted the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. earlier this year to begin collecting signatures on its "Initiative to Save the Initiative." The Jarvis measure would prohibit further changes in the initiative process without voter approval.
Glendale Councilman Carl Raggio, who asked the city attorney to research changes in the law when he learned about it last week, said he was upset about the way it was adopted.
"There's a lot of buck-passing now," the councilman said. "But the bottom line is that no one knew about it. That's a bad way to handle legislation."